PiKA Yields "Deep and Abiding Friendships"

Thank you to Richard Myers '72 for participating in the Q&A.

Why did you join PiKa as an undergraduate? I joined PiKA because out of the other fraternities I rushed, it was the most diverse by late 1960s standards, meaning mixed religions, ethnicities, politics and socioeconomic classes. I thought that the actives were a pretty fun bunch, as well.

What is the funniest memory from your PiKa days? I cannot report on the three funniest incidents (even though the statutes of limitations have passed), so I will have to report on the 4th funniest incident I can remember. One of our brothers who worked on the college newspaper had gone out on a date with a new girl and he was hopeful that he could bring her back to the house. With the help of his roommate, we filled his room completely with crumpled newspapers from floor to ceiling, and we put a sign on the door, "The Newsroom." Although I wasn't there when he and his date arrived, I am told that the surprised look was . . . amusing.

What is the single fondest memory you have shared/will share with your children and grandchildren? My children well know the bonds of fraternity. My fraternity roommate, Bob Labonde '72, and I were both from the West Coast and we both settled in the Philadelphia suburbs. Our wives met each other when we were both in college, as well. My first son, Pat, and his second son, Chris, were born seven months apart. We have been each other's "functional family" for holidays and events. So our families are often reminded of the deep and abiding friendships that the fraternity engendered.

How do you stay connected with your brothers as an alumnus? We email and we get together at Homecoming and Founders Day. In addition, some of the local alumni and I are active advising the undergrads in various issues, such as housing, and we have met with the University's Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs (OFSA) on numerous occasions over the past 7-8 years, as our older alumni did with us when we were undergraduates. In addition, once a year, the "Old Guard" (started with alums that were initiated in the era 1948-1960) has a luncheon which I have attended by invitation. It is a chance for me to thank many of them for their involvement in the fraternity when I was an undergraduate, and some of my more contemporary alumni brothers are just following their examples.

Have you visited Penn since graduation? Yes. I still feel a connection to the university, but I mostly go back to visit the fraternity.

What about your membership in PiKa makes you the most proud? I am most proud of the deep commitment of my contemporaries to maintaining friendships, becoming involved in charitable works and professional development. I know that I speak for many others of my brothers in being particularly proud of Bruce Wolfson '74, who has been a National VP and in charge of the Foundation.

How would your life be different today if you had never joined PiKa? I am not sure that I could speculate. I think that I probably would have joined another fraternity, but the quality of the brotherhood would probably have been markedly different.

If you could go back and relive one moment from your PiKa years, what would it be and why? When I first read the question, I tried to think about whether there was anything that I would have changed, and I couldn't think of anything. For me, my most eye-opening experience was attending the National Convention in Biloxi, Mississippi in 1970 or 1971. It was really a time of positive change for PiKA, and it really ushered in a time of greater awareness of the issues of the world around us. It was a great time to have been there and I really learned a lot.

Where has life taken you since graduation? What's new in your life today? I have had a wonderful career as a Philadelphia lawyer. In 2011, the US Supreme Court accepted certiorari in a case on which I was the attorney of record for the cert. petition. Though I did not argue the case before the Supreme Court, it was exciting to be there. I also am privileged to be a decent enough mandolin player that I can play in bluegrass sessions hosted by one of my "guitar heroes," David Bromberg, who lives in Wilmington, DE.

Who do you stay connected with in your alumni years? Are there any brothers you've lost touch with whom you'd like to reconnect? I am connected with almost everyone in my pledge class, I think, because most of us are pretty good about attending PiKA events. There are a couple of older alums, Ron King '70 and Steve Dreskin, with whom I have lost touch and would like to see again. Mostly, though, those of us who were in the fraternity from 1967-1975 or so have stayed in pretty close contact.

Why would you encourage other brothers to engage with PiKa in their alumni years? I think I told this story to a couple of actives at the "Old Guard" luncheon. I think that Johnny Hippel '22, who was a National President of PiKA from our chapter, was one of the first adults whom I ever addressed by his first name. When I met him, he was in his 60s, I think. He was a tremendously well-known Philadelphia attorney, but he was just "Johnny" to us. He was committed to seeing the ideals of the fraternity brought forward, and he communicated this to us by his actions. Engaging with the fraternity helps one realize that the bonds of brotherhood extend across generations and geography. It really is a very simple equation: If you got something out of the fraternity--and I really did--then there comes a time for you to return that to our younger brothers so that they can carry forward the positives that we received.

What is the best thing about your alumni experience? It's not over yet. I am sure that there are better things to come. Seriously, I think that, assuming that you pay attention to your life as you live it, you gain a certain amount of wisdom and perspective that allows you to see how valuable the fraternity experience was, and to help the newer brothers in some small way based on that perspective.

Reconnect with Richard at myersrpm@gmail.com.

Alum Gives Glimpse Into Unique Era at PiKA

Thank you to Rich Sussman '72 for the following submission.

Why did you join PiKA as an undergraduate?
Entering Penn in the fall of 1968 the college world we found was undergoing a major paradigm shift. The Viet Nam war was at its peak, as was the social revolution known today simply as "the sixties." The fraternity system at Penn as at many other colleges, represented the old order and, indeed, at Penn was for the most part two separate systems: Christian fraternities and Jewish fraternities that had very little to do with each other. PiKA was one of only 3 or 4 out of more than 50 fraternities on campus that bridged that divide. At the same time, the University, expanding rapidly into West Philadelphia, had used its eminent domain power to take over a large tract of land along Locust Street, between 38th and 40th streets to build high rise student apartments, displacing many fraternities housed in that area for years. Most of those fraternities did not survive. PiKA was lucky that a group of alumni, led by Joe Moore, Joe Livezy and Jack Linton had the foresight to raise enough money to buy two row houses on Spruce Street and renovate them into the current chapter house.

So, that is the back drop against which myself and a group of new friends I had made in the freshman dorms were evaluating whether to join a fraternity or not. Our conclusion was that we would form our own, rather that conform to the "outdated" mores and problems of existing houses. We sought advice from the Univ. Dean of Residential Life and he convinced us to talk to a few fraternities whose membership was down on the theory that we were a large enough group that by our sophomore year we would have enough control to change the house from within, but would benefit from the existing infrastructure. We visited one house with a prime Locust Walk location, but the house was in such bad shape and the brothers so disaffected that a number of our group were so turned off they dropped out of the effort entirely. Rush ended at the end of the fall semester with us having done nothing. Fortunately, we had agreed to visit Pi Kappa Alpha, in their new house, in the first week of the new semester. The house had not been ready on time for the fall semester and all the brothers scheduled to live there had to scramble to find other living arrangements during the first week of school. When the house was finally available for occupancy in November many refused to move in because of their existing housing commitments. I remember we had to climb in the front door over a pile of rubble because the front steps had not been bricked in yet. The house was fresh and new, with no furniture in the public rooms. The brothers living in the house were either farsighted or desperate enough (depending on your point of view) to welcome us and that is how we joined Pi Kappa Alpha.

The Dean had been right in that we were able to assert our agenda fairly quickly, supported by similar changes going on throughout the University community and the national fraternity. I was elected SMC in the second semester of my sophomore year and served for 4 semesters as we worked hard to hold things together with very limited resources while rebuilding the brotherhood to a sustainable level. My sophomore and junior years saw relatively small rush classes and we weren't able to fill the house. We had to use our social dues to help meet our mortgage payments (which of course restricted our partying substantially). In those days the house corporation owned the house, not the University. It wasn't until my senior year that we took in a large rush class that really set the house on firm footing and opened the door to the years of great achievement, including winning four consecutive Smythe awards. If I was to pinpoint a starting point, however, for the process that lead to that point, I would have to credit my mentor, Tim Sotos '70, who was SMC when we joined the house in early 1969.

That struggle to survive and the refusal of all of us there then to let the house fail forged a bond that has held us together as close friends and lifelong brothers that we still celebrate today. Twice a year, at Homecoming in the fall and Founders Day in the spring, there is a core group of brothers with initiation dates between 1968 and 1975 who represent the bulk of returning alumni. We continue to share many of our life cycle events outside of those dates with each other as well. Truly, we found "friendship on a firmer and more lasting basis!"

What are some of your most memorable moments from PiKA?
Some of my fondest memories include:

The chapter had no culture of involvement with the National HQ prior to 1969, but I distinctly remember Pat Halloran, then newly appointed, stopping by the house to introduce himself on a trip to Philadelphia. I think it was Tim Sotos, Rich Myers '72 and I who met with him in our dining room. We were greatly impressed with his enthusiasm, ideas and general "coolness." That opened the door to our future interest in PiKA as something more than a name for our local chapter.

I remember in my sophomore year, sitting with a large group of brothers in either Mike Gall or Dave Sherwood's room and listening to the radio announce the birthdate lottery for likely draft status. That was a huge event that would determine who might be called and who wouldn't have to worry. I was lucky that day, but many lives were changed by the decisions that had to be made afterwards.

I remember 5 of us squeezing into Dave Sherwood's little Camaro to drive to Long Island to pick up some basement furniture my parents were getting rid of. It was the first furniture we had for the "rathskeller" room in the basement. Somehow we got it all tied to the top of that little car for the ride back.

Once, while I was SMC, I returned from a weekend trip to find the entire first floor of our new house coated in a fine white powder. It turns out someone had the brilliant idea that a cornstarch fight would be fun. It took weeks to clean up the mess.

Rush was always critical so we hatched a plan at the end of my junior year: we would all sign up to be freshman advisors so we would have an early in with various dorm floors for the incoming freshmen. Somehow I got assigned to be the freshmen advisor to the incoming class of dental hygienists. It turned out to be the best rush tool of all as they were all women and they spent a lot of time hanging out at the house all through the rush season. That incoming rush class was huge and was the class that finally allowed us to turn the corner.

Brothers can connect with Rich at rsussman5@comcast.net.